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Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

Burma: What We Can Do

At 60 years, it's the longest running civil war.  3,000+ villages have been destroyed.  Thousands murdered in ethnic cleansing.  2,000,000 refugees have fled and 1,000,000 are internally displaced.  For such a small country, the army is the 7th largest in the world—with no external enemies.  It's got the largest army of child soldiers and the most deployed landmines in the world—they can afford it when 50% of budget is dedicated to the army.  By the way, don't get sick here: it's 190 out of 191 in world health.  This is Burma.  Sadly, most of the world doesn't know about these facts.  The genocide and internal war there has gone largely unacknowledged.  Thankfully, there are some organizations doing something about it.

I met two organizations yesterday afternoon: Partners Relief & Development and Free Burma Rangers.  Partners is a wonderful organization that does relief and capacity building in the refugee camps on the Thai side of the border.  The organization meets important needs for the refugees who literally have nowhere to go.  There may be some opportunity for Pepperdine Law to assist the work here by providing legal training in the camps—the refugees don't know Thai, UNHCR regulations, or camp rules—all of which they are subject to.

Jay at the border

The most exciting opportunity for us may be with Free Burma Rangers.  FBR is a group of ex-U.S. commandos that started a relief team running missions to help the Karen escape the army and document the struggle.  They have trained hundreds of other team members now, running missions throughout the country.  As their founder explained to me, they take the position that they are documenting everything—every village destroyed, every individual killed or abused—in order to have mounds of evidence available when these crimes can be brought before an international criminal tribunal.  And mounds of evidence they have—the room we met in was filled with video tapes and documentation.

They need two things: law students to organize all this documentation and a lawyer to bring this action before an international criminal tribunal.  Our meeting opened up some law student internship opportunities.  So, if you're interested in constructing a legal case against a brutal dictatorship, please let me know.  They have tons of documentation, but no one to piece it together.  I have no expertise on what the process is for bring an action in an international criminal tribunal.  However, there is a law professor from another school that has set out the groundwork for bringing this action.  It sounds like they still need the right person to try the case.

I think that we can make a very tangible difference in Burma through these opportunities—particularly in building the legal case.  I'm bringing many DVDs and written materials home with me, so be prepared for my pitch to get involved.